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Belonging to several stigmatized groups is not necessarily a minus on the job market

What stereotypes are evoked when employers review a job application from a 55-year-old Arab woman? How will an Arab woman who is gay be perceived? People belonging to several social categories that are individually discriminated on the job market are not necessarily more discriminated than those who belong to only one stigmatized group. The effect is sometimes the opposite, shows a new dissertation in psychology by Andrea Strinic at Linnaeus University.

New research from Linnaeus University explains how the chances on the labor market are affected by belonging to several individually marginalized groups.

Andrea Strinic's dissertation shows that when stigmatized group categories are added to one another, this does not necessarily produce additive negative effects. Rather, a category that is perceived negatively in isolation, such as homosexuality, can offset the negative impact of another stigmatized category, in this case Arab ethnicity.

"Most previous research on stereotypes and hiring discrimination focuses on single demographic group categories, such as ethnicity or gender, rather than on their combinations, even though people inevitably belong to multiple group categories simultaneously," says Andrea Strinic, researcher in psychology at Linnaeus University

Several possible explanations

Her thesis explores how perceptions of warmth and competence are associated with multiple group categories. More specifically, the ethnicities Arab or Swedish, male or female gender, age 30 and 55 respectively, and sexual orientation are examined.

"We found that signaling Arab ethnicity lowers general perceptions of warmth and competence in a work context, although portraying members of the Arab demographic group as gay resulted in more positive stereotypes ascribed to them than to their straight counterparts," says Andrea Strinic.

One possible explanation is that people that belong to several minorities are seen as less typical representatives of each single group category, and therefore are less affected by stereotyping based on their characteristics. Another explanation is that there could be an ongoing attitude change toward sexual minorities.

How did the perceptions match real-world behaviour?

Next, Strinic and her colleagues examined how these perceptions match with how people behave in real-world situations. They tested this in a modern version of the ‘lost letter’ experiment, a classic method for identifying prejudice toward social groups.

The team sent out 6,654 emails containing a job opportunity follow-up that ostensibly reached the wrong recipient. They then measured how many people answered back, informing the sender of the mistake. Because the message revealed the fictive sender’s ethnicity and sexual orientation, it is possible to see how these factors impact the number of returned emails.

The mechanisms of discrimination

The results show evidence of ethnic discrimination, with Arab senders receiving fewer replies than senders with typical Swedish sounding names. However, gender or sexual orientation did not influence the number of answers. In this experiment, belonging to several stigmatized group categories did not affect the rate of discrimination.

"With increasing knowledge of how minority groups are treated based on the multitude of characteristics they possess; we can develop essential lessons to better understand mechanisms of discrimination. This process also allows us to pinpoint for policymakers where the action is needed the most and in which format," says Andrea Strinic.


More information:

Andrea Strinic’s doctoral thesis: "Multiple categorization in hiring: The stereotype content model perspective"

Linnaeus University’s research group Diversity in the labour market.